I recieved one of those continuing education catalogs in the mail today (from Lehman College, not BYU), and glancing through it, I began to wonder why the courses are all very basic. The courses are all introductory, and seem to be for those looking to start a career in relatively low-skill professions. I suppose there is good reason for this–colleges offer courses that people want to take. But with the rise of the Internet and “distance learning” shouldn’t the reverse be happening also? Shouldn’t these tools result in a lot of small, narrowly-focused courses, more academic in nature? Perhaps even courses that are more narrow and more open than what can be provided when students are seeking degrees? There might not be enough students at one university for these narrow courses, but there may be enough students at 10 or 100 universities or more.
For example, what about courses in Mormon Studies?
A few courses in Mormon Studies do exist, of course. But while they aren’t all at BYU, those courses also are not available to all that would like to take them. And, in general, they are available only to those who are currently seeking degrees at one of the Universities that offer them.
Of course, I don’t claim to know very well what makes people take courses. I understand that the degree is a powerful incentive–one that makes us pay tens of thousands of dollars to work hard to learn. I’m sure that the vast majority of people don’t see much need for the kind of additional education I’m talking about–especially if they have to pay money for it, or if it doesn’t lead to a degree that actually helps them in their temporal lives.
But I also see some people who are like me–interested in learning in depth in those subjects that interest us. Isn’t there a few hundred or a thousand people interested in Mormon Studies courses?
I think that the corpus of academics exist to further ideas like this. We have hundreds of Mormon academics who are qualified and seem interested in Mormon Studies. In the past decade new Mormon Studies groups have popped up fairly frequently, paying attention to new academic areas and increasing the number of areas being studied.
I don’t know how realistic a prospect is the idea of Mormon Studies courses available to people like me–those no longer attending a University and not living neara University that might be expected to teach a Mormon Studies course. I don’t even know much about distance learning and how such courses might be taught. Is the technology ready for such courses? Could it be applied to an on-line, distance-learning open university or college? I don’t know.
I just wish some courses were available to me.